Laid Out At The Allotment: Flat-Pack Cat

IMG_0815

There are two long-abandoned plots next to mine at the Wenlock allotments. On recent late-day visits to my polytunnel, the sun still hot, I’ve found this allotment cat (one of several feral felines who haunt the place) stretched out between two dismantled shed panels. The pose says it all: absolute bliss.

IMG_0813

IMG_0818

*

Here’s its sibling. Both cats seem to make a living on the allotment. In fact I think they were born here and don’t seem to belong to anyone. I dare say there are plenty of rodents to hunt. And now I think about it, there are certainly fewer birds foraging on the plots. In the winter, one or other sleeps in my polytunnel.

IMG_0828

*

And here’s another regular prowler, doing a good little leopard imitation:

IMG_0823

IMG_0820

Odd Moment With A Sheep And Old Tales Of Dodgy Deals

P1060951cr

I don’t know about you, but I feel quite uncomfortable being so closely scrutinized by a member of the ovine tribe. It happens now and then as I tramp the lanes and byways of Much Wenlock.

This one was in the field opposite Wenlock Priory ruins, which interestingly had much to do with sheep rearing in the early Middle Ages. In fact the sale of wool from its flocks was an important source of the Priory’s wealth. And so you may imagine the brotherly fury (even to the point of murderous intent) that was roused  when, in the late 1200s, the then Prior, John de Tycford, engaged in some dirty dabbling in the futures market and sold 7 years’ wool crop in advance and then kept the proceeds.

One monk, William de Broseley was so incensed, he left the Priory and gathered a gang in the woods, all set to ambush and kill the Prior. News of this plan did not go down well with the higher authorities, who instructed sheriffs to arrest ‘vagabond monks of the Cluniac order.’ William was duly captured and received his just deserts (not defined by chroniclers, but doubtless deeply unpleasant).

Meanwhile the Prior, who also went in for monastic asset stripping as well as having a history of fraternizing with money-lenders, had friends in a very high place: first King Henry III and then his successor-son, Edward Longshanks, aka Edward I. De Tycford, it seems, was good at political intrigue and had been royally employed on a  diplomatic mission to nearby troublesome Wales. It did not seem to matter that he had run the Priory into debt. When he left Much Wenlock in 1285 it was to take up an appointment  as Prior of Lewes in Sussex, not only another grand Cluniac house, but also a politically sensitive location. The army of Henry III had retreated into the Priory in 1264 during the barons uprising led by Simon de Monfort. This had caused serious division between the monks, many of whom were later punished or banished back to France.

And so it goes. It’s how the world runs. Power and money control ALL aspects of our lives, although we’re mostly too distracted to see how deep and wide this goes. Perhaps the sheep is trying to tell me something. Perhaps I ought to tell it: I am not a sheep.

The Square Odds #15

Windfall-Tree With Chilli Dressing

IMG_3203

There’s not much leeway for Christmas trees in our cottage. This is mostly because the two main living rooms have multiple doorways. We ummed and ah-ed about getting a small one, and then one morning as we were walking home from a spot of shopping, there beside the old railway line at the junction with Sheinton Street was a crashed Wellingtonia branch, the result of high wind events in early December. So that solved the problem. For one thing it was flat. Two dimensional dressing only, which meant it would fit in the corner of the kitchen.

The branch was hauled home, trimmed and propped with rocks inside a coconut sellers’ basket that had come back with us from Kenya twenty odd years ago. It  was then sited in the chosen position where it did indeed fit. Just. Lights and decorations were unearthed, and it was then that certain limitations were encountered. When it came to suspending decorations, the individual small stems along the branch were neither robust nor numerous. They were also more vertical than horizontal. What to do? The in-house stock of lightweight knick-knackery was soon exhausted, leaving us, I felt, with a rather sparse effort, festively speaking. More red was needed, and that’s how a trip to the allotment polytunnel resolved matters. Chillis, large and small, were duly harvested. And the whole effort topped with a red ribbon. So there we have it; our make-do ‘tree’.

IMG_3205 (2)

IMG_3210

Wishing Everyone A Happy Problem-Solving New Year

Of Long Past Posts ~ Wolf Farts Revisited

IMG_2608 (2)

Sunshine yesterday after days of rain and general dankness, so we took ourselves off for a short walk up Windmill Hill. It was ages since we were last there – probably July when the pyramidal orchids were still in full bloom and there were drifts of yellow ladies bedstraw amongst the meadow grasses. Now the hill’s plateau top where the Windmill stands has been mown. It is practically a grassy sward up there.

And the reason for the mowing is that the kind Windmill Trust people, who are caring for the place, are trying to ensure the wellbeing of the old limestone meadow. In the recent past it was grazed over the autumn and winter months by ponies, but having field stock is anyway problematical when it’s such a popular spot for local dog walkers. So mowing it was, and I gather they managed to sell the grass for cattle feed, which all helps to support the Trust’s work.

P1050182

Anyway, it was as I wandering around on the grassy top that I remembered the wolf farts. They featured in one of my early posts on matters Wenlockian and I hadn’t bothered to look for them since. And the reason I’d looked for them back then was because they cropped up in Guardian newspaper piece by journalist and nature writer of repute, Paul Evans, who happened to live in Much Wenlock.

So: what are wolf farts but the common puffball, Lycoperdon (from the Greek lycos wolf and perdomai to break wind) perlatum  (gem-studded). Another name is devil’s snuffbox. My first introduction to them was in winter when they had dried to empty husks, their spores dispersed. The ones in the photos are at most 2.5 cm (a good inch) across.

065

I later read that squeezing them at the ripe stage was to be avoided. The spores are fine as dust and breathing them in can lead to lycoperdonosis, a life-threatening respiratory condition caused when the spores lodge in the lungs. A very nasty prospect.

But there were no such dangers of evil inhalants from the ones I spotted yesterday (header photo). They were freshly formed. And this reminded me of the recent  marvellous foraging essay from Margaret at From Pyrenees to Pennines in which she describes finding “a magnificent puffball weighing in at more than a kilo, which – thickly sliced and dredged first in beaten egg, then breadcrumbs and grated parmesan and fried in butter – made splendidly tasty steaks.” As a fellow forager I was mightily excited by this piece of deliciousness. Somehow, though, I don’t think our tiny Windmill Hill wolf farts will quite come up to snuff on the tasty steak front.

IMG_2614 (2)

More about the common puffball HERE

Of Wolf Farts, Windmills and the Wenlock Olympics  original post

 Past Squares #7

This Must Be The Stuff Rumpelstiltskin Used

IMG_1230

Well here it is – all set to spin into gold. So now you know. Rumpelstiltskin surely had barley straw.

But before the spinning – this was the barley crop three mornings ago:

IMG_1182

Then in the afternoon, in the baking heat, this happened:

IMG_1211

And the dust flew:

IMG_1194

And now we have this:

IMG_1245

And I can hurdle across the field to the allotment, leaping limping over the straw furrows which are half a metre tall, grabbing a few handfuls as I go – not for gold production unfortunately, but to add to the compost bins. There’s another bonus too. This early harvesting may mean we have the freedom of the field for much longer than we usually do – i.e. before it is ploughed for the next crop. I’m also looking forward to baling, if that’s what happens with barley straw. Lots more photo opportunities if the bales are left in the field long enough to take the camera out.

Grimms’ Fairy Tales: Rumpelstiltskin

Clouds With Silver Linings?

IMG_0441

I have to say that on the presentation front the cloud gods have truly upped their game this year. Even in the stormy wet and frigid months that were supposed to be spring, but weren’t, we were treated to some magnificent cloudscapes. And lately too, during our present hot spell, we’ve had some stunningly captivating creations. There’s much to be said for cloud watching. In fact I think this huge job spotted over the barley field the other afternoon could well be the Starship Enterprise in disguise.

IMG_0330

Life in Colour: White/Silver

Alien Life Forms At The Allotment?

IMG_3065

Well this does look pretty weird, doesn’t it. On the other hand it’s the only evidence of major growth  on my allotment plots just now. And the only photo-worthy sign that I’ve actually been toiling away up there.

Naturally, seasoned gardeners will immediately recognise what’s going on here, though my method was a bit unorthodox. Forced rhubarb. Back in the winter when the shoots were first sprouting, this despite many rounds of frost, I had the notion of putting a spare compost bin over the clump. It has worked very well, producing very long pink juicy stems that cook in an eye’s blink. Delicious simmered in fresh-squeezed orange juice, sweetened with runny honey and some star anise. Then served with Greek yogurt. Just the thing for a bright breakfast start to the day.

Bright Square #29